Back at the time that the following events happened, I made a Facebook post about it, but never really told the story – And it’s a good one. Sticking to this dedication to writing, now is a great time to tell the story of how I got to test the functionality of my implanted defibrillator.
After my surgery in June, i originally went home at the beginning of July. By the end of August I was back. I just wasn’t recovering. I was still retaining a ton of fluid, which makes EVERYTHING harder than it should be. Breathing being first on the list. In the first week of being back my cardiologist told me that he wanted me to get an ICD (implantable cardioverter defibrillator). He made it sound like it was a minor thing, and said that the doctor who was going to do the surgery would be by later to talk to me about it. Sure enough, the other doctor shows up and explains to me that he is going to implant a device in my chest that has leads that go into my heart. If my heart does anything it’s not supposed to – like stop – this thing shocks it back into correct operation. It’s got an 11-year battery, is barely noticeable, and would be a huge security net for me. He said, “you can travel more safely, have more independence, have less to worry about, and you can even fly with it.” I looked right at him and said, “I can flyyyyyyyyyyyy??” He just looked at me like I was an idiot and said we were doing the surgery that Friday.
In explaining to my dad what was going on I told him about the “I can flyyyyyyy?” thing and he thought it was absolutely hilarious. Fast forward to that Friday and they did the operation and I woke up 10 hours later feeling like nothing had been done at all. I ended up spending the entire month of September in the hospital, getting out in the very beginning of October.
Just before I got out of the hospital is when my cardiologist dropped his bomb on me: He was recommending me for the transplant program at another hospital. My heart just wasn’t recovering like everyone wanted it to. Needless to say I wasn’t happy with that assessment. To the point where I got a second opinion from another cardiologist who basically told me the same thing. It was this same time when I started the 3-month long cardiac rehab program that I was too sick to start back in July.
When I started the rehab program, I couldn’t do 5 minutes of continuous cardio without stopping. 3 weeks later I was doing 30-40 minutes at a time, twice a day, 6 days a week. My second shot at recovery was going much better than the first. At the end of October I got a stomach bug and actually ended up back in the hospital for a couple of days for dehydration. My cardiologist was shocked at my progress. My heart function had actually come up from 20% to 50% in a month. He was impressed. Everything was looking great…
Fast forward to the Sunday before Thanksgiving:
My sister and I had planned to head down to Padre Island to my Dad’s “fishing cabin” for the week of Thanksgiving. We woke early that Sunday morning and started packing up the car to leave at 9:00am. After hauling all my luggage to the car, walking back in the house to say goodbye to my parents, and walking back to the car – I plopped down in the passenger’s seat and prepared for the 8 hour ride. My sister’s boyfriend at the time had bought us breakfast from Starbucks, and as my sister started the car I reached for the breakfast sandwich I was about to devour…
The first shock felt like someone shoving me in the chest. My entire body jerked and I immediately started looking around the seat like there was a wire or something touching me. “That was weird,” I said as my sister looked at me like I was growing horns. She’d seen my body jerk, where I’d only felt it.
The second shock felt like God himself punched me in the sternum. My entire body spasmed hard enough for my hand and arm to hit the car door. “What was that??!” my sister gasped. “That was my defibrillator,” I managed to croak. “What do I do?!” she gasped. “Uhh, Call 911…” I said cocking my eyebrow.
So she does the only logical thing there was to do: got out of the car and left me there while she went in the house to tell my Mom and Stepdad what was going on.
The third shock wasn’t quite a “punch” from god – but definitely a two-fingered jab to the chest. I pressed myself back against the seat as hard as I could. Breathing evenly, forcing myself to relax. My sister comes back and is relaying questions from the dispatcher to me and the fourth shock hit just in time to hear the ambulance sirens a block away.
The EMT’s immediately start asking me questions relating to a heart attack, considering I’m telling them that my defibrillator just went off. Which is what brings us to the weird part: I felt fine. I felt fine before it went off. As soon as it the damn thing quit pumping juice into my heart, I felt fine. I wasn’t out of breath. I wasn’t sweating or uncomfortable in any way. Before or after.
They hooked me up to a 12-lead EKG, heart monitor, blood pressure, everything…
And couldn’t find anything wrong.
My blood pressure and heart rate were SLIGHTLY elevated, but that was it. I explained to them that I was about to be going on a week-long vacation and that I didn’t need this shit right now. They explained to me that if it was, in fact, a mis-fire of my defibrillator that it could do it again at any time, and that it was best that I went with them to get it checked out. Remembering what that second shock felt like – I agreed. Off to the ER we went, and in my head our road trip was ruined.
We got to the ER by about 9:30 and I immediately saw a doctor who went over everything the EMTs had found and what the current monitors were saying. He ordered some blood work and said that he’d be back to let me know if he found anything wrong. An hour later he comes back to tell me that there is nothing wrong with me. I asked him if it could have been a mis-fire, and he said the only way to know was to call a representative from the manufacturer of my ICD and have them “interrogate” the device. It was 11:00 in the morning on a Sunday, I was absolutely convinced that the road trip is screwed at this point.
The guy showed up in 30 minutes.
He comes walking into my room with this big, blue case and introduces himself. When he opens the case, it turn out to be a laptop and thermal printer imbedded in a foam casing. He logs into his computer, and the next thing I know – he is looking at a live EKG…from my chest. His laptop connects wirelessly to my defibrillator. How cool is that? so he does a little scrolling, and says, “Yep – there is where it went off.”
“No shit, ” I thought, “I know the damn thing went off – why?”
He clicks around, does some scrolling, nods and mumbles, and then prints off about 6 feet of EKG. He then proceeds to show me that leading up to the device firing – my heart rhythms were all normal, and that everything looked good. “So why did it go off?” I asked. He then explained to me that there is a parameter for heart rate, and that mine was set to 140 beats per minute, which is normal for people recovering from heart surgery. I explained to him that I worked out for an average of about 2 hours a day and that I got my heart rate close to that level all the time. He then told me that I had almost set this thing off about a dozen times in the last week alone. It just so happened that I managed to get it to fire the day we were supposed to be leaving. I was recovering faster than they had time to adjust the parameters. I was at the level I was supposed to be at after 6 months, not 5 weeks.
“How long were you out?” he asked me. I said, “Out?”
“Yeah, the second shock is designed to knock you out if your heart rate is elevated. The best way to slow a heart down is to render someone unconscious,” he went on to explain. “You apparently don’t know how hard I am to knock out, ” I said, “I was awake for all 4 shocks.”
All he could say was “Wow…”
He then tells me all he needs to do is get ahold of my cardiologist and the doctor who did the implant and see what they wanted to do. I’m thinking, “it’s noon on a Sunday and he needs to get ahold of two doctors. Our road trip is TOTALLY screwed at this point.”
20 minutes later the guy walks into my room and says, “Okay we are all set.” He clicks a few things on his computer, mumbles to himself, nods, and then logs out and closes the case. That was all it took. He’d gotten both doctors on the phone, they told him what to adjust the setting to, and we were done. I said, “if you were supposed to be taking an 8-hour long road trip, would you have any reason not to?” He said, “nothing is wrong with you – you’re all set.”
We were on the road by 1:00.
When we got to my Dad’s “fishing cabin”, I said “When they put this thing in my chest – they told me I could fly and I’m not sure about that. But I DO know that if I jog around the block I can damn sure jump-start your car.” Again, my Dad thought that was hilarious.
So I had to evaluate the performance of the Taze-o-Matic 9000, I can tell you this without any doubt: that second shock was probably one of the top 3 most painful things I have ever experienced. The 3rd and 4th are in the top 10. I wear a heart rate monitor every day and anytime I know my heart rate is elevated, I watch that thing like a hawk. I’m glad to have it, though – Just in case my heart ever does anything stupid…like stop.